Nowadays, monitor calibration has become crucial after purchasing a cutting-edge display. Wanting to squeeze every ounce of visual performance you can get from a peripheral that warrants a sizeable investment. Of course, some products already have excellent factory calibrations which would let users use it as soon as you take it out of the box, while some need a little love and effort for the magic to happen. The world of monitor calibration is highly technical and complex, and here are the basics that can help you get through it.
Important Settings and Their Ideal Points
1. Color Temperature
Color Temperature is the number that dictates the warmth or coolness of a screen’s output. This unit is expressed in kelvins and denoted by the letter K. Colors below 5000K are considered warm which is yellowish to reddish, while those above it are considered cool or bluish-white to white. For computer monitors, the ideal result is 6500K which is the closest representation of daylight or regular lighting conditions.
Achieving 6500K is as simple as tweaking the RGB sliders and the brightness of your display via the OSD, but often professionals use Spectrophotometers. Some high-end devices such as the Acer Predator X34 also includes 6-Axis calibration adjustments which allow you to tweak the secondary colors Yellow, Magenta and Cyan. A little over or under 6500K is acceptable, but for some individuals, the difference becomes immediately noticeable.
Gamma is the non-linear relationship between the brightness of your monitor and the pixel levels. This unit has minimal to no effect on black or white, but it will alter the tones in between. If gamma is set too low, the middle tones will appear too light, and when it is too high, the results will be darker.
For computer monitors, everybody recognizes and aims for a gamma level of 2.2 as the ideal level because it is the standard for Microsoft Windows operating system and the sRGB color space. If your setting is too far off from 2.2, some image flaws like color banding will appear. Gamma 2.2 alleviates this because it allows your screen to display the maximum range of colors.
It’s a good thing, high-end monitors like the Asus PG278QR has a gamma option which allows you to select between 1.8, 2.2, and 2.5 which represents the ideal point plus the higher and lower thresholds before images start to degrade noticeably. Other products have sliders instead, while some budget-oriented options rely on monitor calibration results.
3. Color Accuracy/ Delta E
Color accuracy or Delta E is the precision of the color your graphics card requests and your monitor displays. The lower your result is, the more lifelike and accurate the colors will be when compared to seeing it instead of through gaming or professional monitor.
As described by the color calibrator company LaCie, if your Delta E is greater than three, the images displayed have noticeable and significant variances when compared to the original or theoretical one. If it is below DeltaE 2, LaCie considers your calibration as acceptable of sufficient, and there are only a few differences which are barely detectable. But if your monitor can produce a DeltaE of less than 1, color fidelity or accuracy is considered excellent and near-lifelike, meaning you would have to be extra sensitive to see a small difference, if there are any.
4. Color Gamut
Gamut is the color spectrum limits that your monitor’s panel can produce concerning how much the human eyes can see and decipher. This is often measured by industry standards such as sRGB, Adobe RGB and Rec. 709. Each standard pertains to a particular industry, and the most common measurement every monitor includes is the sRGB color space.
Gamut is widely affected by a panel’s color interface, so if you have a 10-bit IPS panel which can display 1.07 billion colors, your possible coverage of every shade the eyes can see is greater. If your monitor can exceed 100% of the sRGB color space, this means it can also present a wider range of standards like Adobe RGB for extra depth and saturation.
Luminance or brightness is the backlighting output of your gaming or professional monitor. For safety, comfort, and color accuracy, we usually recommend 100cd/m2 up to 120cd/m2. For your display’s OSD slider, these numbers are generally at 20% to 30% if it can go up to more or less 350cd/m2. If your room or environment has brighter ambient lighting, you may need to raise this setting until you can see the image.
Panel Types and How it Affects Monitor Calibration
By now, almost everybody is familiar with the three panel types and their color accuracies. TNs are regarded as the fastest but lacks the vibrancy of the slower, IPS panel which also has wider viewing angles. On the other hand, VA screens are considered as the contrast king with advantages in color against TN and contrast against IPS.
This fact, however, does not mean only one is the best choice for the other since panel technology has come a long way in resolving their issues. There are some points to consider before choosing from one of these unique types. Once you have your heart set on a hyper-fast TN panel, or an eye-popping IPS or VA equipped product, calibration may still follow unless the manufacturer already set a standard any futile attempt at managing the OSD settings cannot beat.
1. Viewing Angles
It’s no secret that IPS is the king of this characteristic, which allows substantially wider angles before images start to degrade or color shift. Contrast doesn’t change quickly from off-center, thus making it a natural choice for professionals, and currently, gamers.
2. Color Depth and Gamut
Typically, you would see manufacturers bragging about their monitor’s color coverages and depth to emphasize on a product’s output accuracy. For the best calibration results, an 8-bit panel is ideal or even better, a 10-bit module. Regular 8-bit panels offer 16.7 true colors which are often found in IPS and VA, while TNs can only do 6-bit plus FRC to increase the depth. For most intents and purposes, any of these panels will do.
10-bit panels found on designer monitors can produce 1.07 billion colors, but a pure 10-bit model usually costs an arm and a leg. Some models have extended,12-bit or 14-bit look-up tables to increase the available tones which then enhances the color palette your screen can choose from and deliver.
3. Color Accuracy
This aspect is highly related to the previous subject because the results that come out of calibration are derived from panel type and quality, color depth, and gamut range. While IPS are highly praised and preferred in this regard, high-quality VA and TN panels are capable of outstanding color accuracy and vibrancy with or without calibration.
If a panel can display a near perfect coverage of the popular gamut standards along with excellent contrast ratios, we would consider that as a recommended buy for most users. But our reviews cover a much more general criterion which includes pixel speed and input lag, so rating a product as one of the best may or may not include 100% accuracy.
Monitor Calibration Methods
1. Software-based Monitor Calibration
The Asus PG278QR’s OSD
We prefer to recommend going through your monitor and driver’s included monitor calibration software because it’s easy and free. Sifting through the various sub-menus can help your display to provide a comfortable setting with fair color balance, contrast, and brightness levels which can enhance your visual experience.
Although users should note that this method doesn’t always prove to be 100% accurate, but it is effective and cost efficient. You can do this on your own by just accessing the settings manually via the built-in OSD of your monitor, or via specific controls on your graphics driver’s control panel. Each monitor comes with a different set of options, so it is best to read reviews, guides, and product documentation before buying.
Along with software-enabled monitor calibration, you can enlist the help of test images or websites found on the internet. These usually include palettes or swatches of color with accompanying instructions to determine if your screen is at peak performance. For the best results, you can try each step of the Lagom LCD Monitor Test found here.
2. Using ICC Profiles (International Color Consortium)
Once you tweak a monitor, it will usually produce a profile of the settings you chose for your combination of a graphics card and the display. These files can then be used on different devices such as a printer, scanner, or another monitor, making sure that your color options remain constant on all the devices you have. Profiles are look-up tables which describe the ranges of a gamut which could help your system determine the absolute blue, black, red, or any color your monitor can produce.
ICC profiles are unique to each build so some files may not work with others, or some individuals might see the color-correct settings as erroneous or deviating from their ideal configuration. In truth, ICC profiles try to apply a layer of improvement which makes it easier for users to calibrate with a colorimeter or via the OSD. Since graphics card preference and usage has already streamlined for the past few years, you won’t lose anything if you try an ICC profile for a similar display product.
Installing these files into your OS is easy as peas, but the Windows installation differs from OSX. If you want to try this method out and do it correctly, follow this link for step by step instructions. Also, if you want a curated database, you can follow this link from TFT Central, one of the primary sources of ICC profiles on the web.
3. Hardware Calibration Method
The X-Rite i1Display Pro Colorimeter
Monitor calibration is easier and more convenient if you use a device specifically made for this purpose. This gadget comes in two types, with colorimeters being the cheapest, and most popular, while spectrophotometers cover the high-end option. These devices connect to your USB power to draw power and its functions from the software, while you use the scanner on the screen.
Colorimeters and Spectrophotometers scan light differently, but most models will work their magic by running the software while the scanner sits over the background with different colors. The devices then record what it sees dictates how actual the colors output is against the requests of the graphics card. These results can then be used to formulate corrections to the settings, and the result will produce a monitor calibration profile.
These devices are a wonderful addition if you are using your monitor for color-critical work like photo editing or graphic arts, but the price turns off a lot of would-be owners. Let’s face it, spending a thousand or more on a professional monitor and adding another hundred or two for a calibrator isn’t exactly economical. Plus, as with all electronic devices, you get what you pay for concerning accuracy, and performance.
The Datacolor Spyder5 Colorimeter
Monitor Calibration Tips
- Make sure your monitor has been running for at least an hour to make sure it is warmed up and at its peak output.
- Avoiding rooms or areas with lighting which induces glare is detrimental to the quality of the result you are aiming for. Try your monitor calibration sequence in a dimly lit or darkened room to maximize vibrancy and accuracy. Some professional monitors come with proprietary calibration hoods, similar to the one found on the BenQ SW320 Professional Monitor to help avoid glare.
- If your chosen screen includes Gamma and Color Temperature presets in the OSD, make sure to select their ideal points mentioned above. This method will set a good baseline for your calibration procedure.
- Always check to see if your graphics card driver/control panel is set to 24-bit or 32-bit true color.
- If your Chosen monitor includes a 6-axis calibration, most of the time it is best to leave them at default and try tweaking the first features mentioned above first. This setting is mostly found on projectors, so today’s modern and technologically enhanced monitors don’t gain improvements from this option.But if you feel your screen requires some touches in this regard, always remember that adjusting this will somehow contradict results from your initial settings so you might find yourself back at square one. Some OSDs that have 6-axis calibration like the one found on Acer’s gaming monitors have two panels (Saturate and Hue) for the six colors. Saturate will improve color luminance while Hue should increase or decrease accuracy depending on your needs.